TORONTO - A unique commemorative art installation is adorning the construction hoarding of a downtown Toronto courthouse project as part of work toward commemorating the site's rich history. Infrastructure Ontario (IO) celebrated the unveiling of the installation, titled “Picturing the Ward”, at the provincially owned site that was once part of St. John's Ward (the Ward), one of Toronto's earliest immigrant and migrant settlements. The exhibit is intended to captivate pedestrians and provide insight into this part of the city's past. 

Last year, IO led a complex archaeological dig of the site, which had previously been paved over as a parking lot. The successful excavation recovered tens of thousands of artifacts, mostly from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Drawing inspiration from the site's multicultural heritage, this visually dynamic exhibit showcases a collection of images of these artifacts, as well as the personal stories and photographs from six Torontonians who trace their ancestral roots to the historic neighbourhood. Picturing the Ward explores issues of belonging, family, labour, citizenship and identity, and speaks to the shared experiences of migrants who left their countries of origin to look for new opportunities in Toronto. 

IO is among one of the first organizations in the city to produce a large-scale, original art installation that incorporates heritage content. IO commissioned the work in response to a recent municipal bylaw requiring new construction sites to use art on hoarding to deter vandalism while beautifying public spaces. Through this exhibit, IO is ensuring that the hoarding art at the new Toronto courthouse site has the greatest possible impact on the public land and the communities affected by the construction.

Quick Facts:

  • IO is delivering the new Toronto courthouse project on behalf of the Ministry of the Attorney General using the Alternative Financing and Procurement model.
  • The new Toronto courthouse will bring together several criminal courts operating across the city in a single, modern and accessible location. Amalgamation of justice programs and services will reduce operational and facilities costs, improve efficiency, and better serve the community.
  • In October, IO issued a request for proposals to prequalified teams to design, build, finance and maintain the courthouse. Construction is expected to begin in late 2017.
  • A complex archaeological excavation of the site uncovered artifacts such as children's toys, shoes, perfume bottles, dentures, glass soda bottles, ceramic pitchers and dominoes, among numerous other items.
  • IO has commissioned The STEPS Initiative (STEPS), an award-winning public art organization, to manage the exhibit's design and installation, which it is doing through its public art consultancy, PATCH. Together, IO and STEPS have commissioned PA System, a local artist duo, to create the work. The Toronto Ward Museum, which describes itself as a “museum without walls,” collected and curated the oral histories and archival research for this unique exhibit.
  • Ontario is making the largest infrastructure investment in hospitals, schools, public transit, roads and bridges in the province's history. To learn more about what's happening in your community, go to


“I would like to recognize the tremendous teamwork, dedication and ingenuity that went into developing Picturing the Ward. A more formal and permanent commemoration plan is being developed with our Heritage Interpretation Working Group over the coming months and we are excited to see how that will look in the final design of the new Toronto courthouse.”
John McKendrick, EVP of Project Delivery, Infrastructure Ontario

“This project has brought together the history of the Ward in an unprecedented way. The Province of Ontario has led by example in using a heritage installation to animate the public realm while construction takes place. The project could not have happened without the Toronto Ward Museum's extensive research and efforts to engage former Ward residents and their descendants. Their stories, alongside PA System's powerful integration of both historical and contemporary artifacts, result in a beautiful exhibit that merges the past and the present while looking towards the future."
Alexis Kane Speer, Executive Director, The STEPS Initiative 

Learn More

Infrastructure Ontario
The STEPS Initiative
The Toronto Ward Museum

Media contacts:

Cary Mignault
Infrastructure Ontario

Clare Graham
Ministry of the Attorney General

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